Eastman House puts on 'Gender Show'

05:00 AM, Jun 09, 2013

The newest George Eastman House exhibit, 'The Gender Show,' is steering into waters rarely chartered by the landmark organization. Rather than focus on historical works, it will explore primarily contemporary fine art photography, such as 'Gingham Dress with Apple,' by British photographer Cig Harvey. (Cig Harvey)/

Written By Leah Stacy

If you goWhat: “The Gender Show.”
When: June 15 through Oct. 13.
Where: George Eastman House, 900 East Ave.
Cost: Free with museum admission ($12; $10 for seniors; $5 for students). Admission to the films is $8; $6 for students.
More information: Eastmanhouse.org or (585) 271-3361.

The newest George Eastman House exhibit, “The Gender Show,” is steering into waters rarely chartered by the landmark organization. Rather than focus on more historical works, the exhibit opening June 15 will explore primarily contemporary fine art photography.

It’s the first exhibit overseen by Bruce Barnes, who began his role as museum director last October.

I’m enormously excited about this show,” he says. “I’m very focused on bringing more narrative, contemporary art photography to the Eastman, and there’s a lot of excitement and work coming from artists who have chosen this as their medium.”

The Gender Show” does have some historical works in it. The 200 photos span 170 years. Some of the work will be on display in a museum for the first time, such as U.K.-born Gillian Wearing’s Self Portrait at Twenty Seven Years Old.

The show, which runs through Oct. 13, wasn’t originally slated for the summer. But when Barnes was reviewing upcoming touring exhibits, he found “The Gender Show” more developed in theme and further along than an alternative choice.

Gender is a key issue right now in contemporary art — it really started in photography,” Barnes says.

Beginning with Marcel DuChamp, who photographed himself dressed as a female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, in the 1920s, many artists have used photography to explore the issue of gender.

Barnes called on Alison Nordström, senior curator of photographs at Eastman House, and Jessica Johnston, assistant curator of photographs, to expand the exhibit from 90 to 150 photos. He also selected a set of contemporary artists, videos and photos himself.

Barnes soon realized that Eastman House trustee Elaine Goldman owns many portraits exploring contemporary issues involving gender. She lent 11 photos for the show, and University of Rochester art history professor Douglas Crimp loaned a set of photos by documentary photographer Catherine Opie, who focuses on LGBT issues.

It came together gratuitously, in a very compressed period for your typical exhibition timeline,” Barnes says. “We had a very strong core of work that could be built upon.”

In addition to the loaned sets, the exhibit includes artist Cindy Sherman, who shot a series of black and white photos called Film Stills in the 1970s, styled to look like stills from unknown films. In doing this, Sherman personified archetypal roles of women in film, which Barnes regards as “a true breakthrough.”

Photography from the Eastman’s permanent collection includes artists Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Edward Steichen, Nickolas Muray, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Barbara Norfleet, Mary Ellen Mark and Chuck Samuels.

Though the subject matter can get heavy with gender issues, Barnes and the exhibit crew made it their goal to give “The Gender Show” a lighter touch. For example, one of the pieces is Janine Antoni’s Mom and Dad, in which the artist’s parents were styled to look alike.

Janine’s photo of her parents is quite delightful,” Barnes says. “They don’t look alike, but there’s something tour-de-force about it. It’s very lighthearted while raising a broad set of issues.”

Because the subject matter is contemporary and includes video by artists Jen DeNike, Kalup Linzy and Martha Rosler, Barnes hopes to draw a good number of college students and young adults. Several panel discussions are planned for the fall, when the academic year resumes.

To complement the exhibit, during the month of August, the Dryden Theatre will screen four films in a Tuesday evening series called “Male/Female”: Ma Vie en Rose (Aug. 6), Forty Guns (Aug. 13), I Was a Male War Bride (Aug. 20) and Glen or Glenda (Aug. 27).